Michael M. Bilandic’s new film Project Space 13 is a cheeky, hipster riff on John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 that takes the chatty, character-based drama of that movie’s source, Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo, and brings them back front and center without betraying the scuzzy, 70s low-budget genre feel Carpenter’s film. Three characters—one self-entitled Brooklynite artist, Nate (Keith Poulson reprising his role from Bilandic’s 2013 Hellaware), and his two Laurel and Hardy-esque rented security guards (Theodore Bouloukos and Hunter Zimny)—are holed up in a Soho gallery during a night of rioting.
Expecting the horde to appear at their doorstep at any minute the three, anxiously while away the hours in the gallery with an endless string of meandering banter that becomes an end in its own right. The threatening protestors barely evoke curiosity, let alone fear, and when we do briefly glimpse one rioter, he pops-up merely as a strange-sight gag.
Despite the criticisms of narcissistic art world pretension and pseudo-conservative rent-a-cops, Bilandic is less interested in saying anything with all the contemporariness of the script and setting than with simply taking in the attitudes and textures of his characters. Like a slightly less affectionate update of Clerks the characters spend most of the time slinging placid insults and quips about the state of the world mixed with a solid stream of pop-culture references. While you may never really like these characters, Nate is grating and the security guards are each two different shades of idiot, through the film’s patient indulgence in their shtick, Bilandic delivers a gritty and vivid sense of today’s times that demands you either vibe with it or don’t. In a cinema-landscape where even American indies about regional working-class issues are star-studded, multi-million dollar exercises in faux-realism, this is nothing short of refreshing.
Project Space 13 is streaming on MUBI